The recently hired head of Houston’s police force is taking matters into his own hands when it comes to providing his officers with the utmost quality of mental health care and attention possible.
Art Acevedo, police chief for the Houston area, spoke at a Tribune symposium in January and discussed the need for funding to help support officers in the area in regards to the mental health issues they face as a result of the job they do on a day-to-day basis.
“You see a lot of ugly things,” says Acevedo of being a police officer. “You see a lot of tragedy and whether you realize it or not, it starts to pile on,” he continues. “We shouldn’t wait until an officer begins calling in sick because they have developed a substance abuse problem,” he explains.
It might come as no surprise that Acevedo is coming forward to help safeguard the wellbeing of his (and potentially other) police officers, as 2016 proved to be one of the most tumultuous years for those who have this profession. Between an increase in active shooter situations and altercations regarding race, as well as political protests and hostage situations, police officers have been exposed to more and more distressing events than possibly ever before.
According to Chief Acevedo, police officers under his watch are only provided with a mental health screening at the time of being hired, and never again throughout their careers unless they have a fitness-for-duty process. He is pushing for legislature to supply funding so that police officers can receive a mental health screening every three to five years.
The Role the Legislature Plays in Mental Health
Acevedo has voiced his concerns regarding whether or not legislature will be able to provide the funding necessary to support his push for increased mental health care options for police officers. He is concerned that the funding will not be approved, leaving many officers and their families at-risk for experiencing strife stemming from untreated mental health issues.
Prior to the turn of the New Year, a House committee shared its challenges and potential opportunities to overcome issues pertaining to the mental health system. Specifically, they stated that the $6.7 billion that was spent during 2016 for behavioral and mental health services was split with money going towards Medicaid. When prompted with Acevedo’s request, the committee stated that federal, state, and local funds were “limited”.
However, despite the possibility for funding to be a struggle, the good news is that the legislature is in agreement with Acevedo, and is looking for ways to make mental healthcare more readily available for officers. House Speaker Joe Straus stated that “a smarter approach to mental health will improve treatment and care while saving taxpayers money.”
While it is up to the legislature to approve the funding needed to provide Houston’s police force with the appropriate mental health care, Acevedo is still looking to hold them accountable for doing so by rallying community activists to encourage lawmakers to pass reforms as quickly as possible.
Acevedo is aware that, despite the work that is being done, it might take some time (potentially up to three sessions) for these reforms to be passed.
The Need for Better Mental Health Care for Police Officers
Police officers have always faced a handful of challenges when it comes to their jobs based on the calls they need to take, the events they witness, and the people they interact with. The combination of these challenges, paired with new challenges including intense race relations and terrorism, have made it even more necessary for police officers to be receiving the mental health care they need to function normally and live happy lives.
However, as with many professions, police officers often ignore their needs for mental health treatment in response to the stigma that reaching out for help signifies weakness. With more and more focus being placed on these issues, however, Acevedo is hopeful that more police officers will join in his mission to break this stigma once and for all.
Nearly 1 in 4 police officers struggle with thoughts of suicide at one point or another during their careers, and rates of suicide throughout this profession are staggering. In fact, more police officers die from suicide than homicide.
Additionally, police officers are at increased risk for suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, based on the events that they are exposed to. Sadly, struggling with untreated PTSD can lead to symptoms of anxiety, depression, and even suicidal ideation. PTSD can also trigger the onset of a substance abuse problem, which tends to develop in an effort to cope with the stressors caused by this disorder. It is also important to understand that substance abuse can develop with or without the presence of PTSD. For all of these conditions, professional treatment is often required.
At Cedar Crest, we understand that it can be extremely challenging to finally make the call to get help, which is why we vow to work with you every step of the way when you reach out to us. If you are grappling with mental health concerns, please do not hesitate to call us. We can help.